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Communication and Collective Actions: Motivating Energy Conservation in the U.S. (WP-13-10)

Toby Bolsen, James Druckman, and Fay Lomax Cook

Government exists in large part to provide collective goods that the market would not otherwise produce. A critical question is what collective goods citizens would produce on their own, notwithstanding market forces. The authors address this question evaluating the impact of exposure to communications posited to shape collective action behavior. They find that communications shape behavior depending on two primary factors: first, to whom responsibility is attributed for collective outcomes; and, second, what effects or consequences are associated with one’s actions. They present a novel framework and test predictions with a survey experiment in the domain of energy conservation. The paper adds substantially to what is known about collective action (e.g., unlike past work, the paper does not explore selective incentives or social pressure)—that is, it shows communications drive behavior and this has implications in a domain of immediate relevance: energy sustainability.

Toby Bolsen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science, and Associate Director and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Fay Lomax Cook, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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